I'm not going to say that I feel sorry for Multi-Billion dollar companies raking in Billions in profit, but I do have some empathy for them given how the media is reacting to the news:
More fees, less choice for air travellers - As airlines are making money again. Joan Lowy, Seattlepi.com
U.S. Airlines set $1.7B baggage fee record. Damon Scott, New Mexico Business Weekly
The overreaching editorial here is that the airlines are somehow acting beyond the pale by collecting such obscene amounts of baggage fees from the poor, hapless passenger. How dare they?
If anything, the airlines are finally making passengers pay for their portion of the weight that's housed in the cargo bay, something that wasn't as necessary before 2008 and the higher price of fuel. To the airline's credit they knew, when this idea was hatched, that it would not be popular with the general flying public. They first attempted to deal with this high cost by cutting. Free snacks in coach, blankets, pillows. Each new mini-outrage (seriously, was it so bad that you weren't getting that little packet of pretzels any longer, or those tiny pillows?) received breathless proclamations and editorials in newspapers that things have finally reached the point of no return. Then came the bag fees, and the outcry. What was missed is the story that the flying public has, for the most part, come to accept these fees as a cost of convenience.
Are they well liked? No.
They're tolerated, kind of like your crazy uncle during Thanksgiving holiday.
The funny (and also under reported) thing is this: If you do a little travel planning you can avoid paying most of the fees, unless you feel that you need to bring your entire wardrobe along for a 5 day trip. If you want to avoid paying fees for bags consider the following:
1. Every airline has an attached miles credit card that allows for a certain number of free bags per flight. I don't get paid for credit card referrals so I'm not going to pimp one card over the other here but they are available. And I've said before that I think the perks are going to become even more plentiful in the future.*
2. Domestically, there are no baggage fee airlines. Southwest being the most obvious but they're out there. Note this though: Even Southwest charges for the third bag. The point is that, most fliers, DO have options, it's just that travel reporters are too lazy to go out there and look for them. JetBlue is also free for the first bag. Between those two airlines you can access a majority of the country flying with one bag.
3. If you travel even a moderate amount, join a frequent flier plan. Not doing this is the biggest mistake many travellers make. Even the lowest tier on the plan offers some type of free bag allowance. You're not adding your FF number to your work trips? Unless your company has a policy against it, why not?
4. Even the legacy carriers allow one free checked bag per ticket on International flights. Again, do you really need that redundant hair dryer, five cases of make-up, 10 pairs of pants and five pairs of shoes and a baseball cap per day for a 5 day trip?
5. Piggy-backing on #4: How do you pack? Many bag fees can be avoided simply by good packing. My carry-on luggage is a 20" TravelPro roller-board and a back-pack. I can pack for up to 6 days in warm weather using both of those, 4-5 in cool or cold weather. I've taken many Inter-continental trips where I haven't checked a bag. Oh, and my wife has as well so this is not a gender thing. You might want to consider buying some travel space bags. Wonderful inventions.
I realize that, to those of you who travel, this is rudimentary and just common sense stuff but, reading the comments on many travel articles, it seems that common sense is a lot less common than we all want to believe. At heart, this blog's travel posts are about making it work in the back cabin of the plane with the occasional pity bump into domestic First or Business. As rudimentary as these things sound, I will be putting them into practice on my next trip to Rome. I'm flying the "I hate my life" special on US Airways coach, an airline on which I have zero status. The wife and I are going to be spending five days there and we will be checking one small bag, mainly so that we have some room for souvenirs on the flight back. Since we're looking down the barrel at 10+ hours in US coach seating I'm fully planning on spending that saved luggage-fee money on some good seat-cushions and aids for sleeping on planes. Priorities.